Je Suis Sassenach

The word “Sassenach” has become well-known with the advent of “Outlander” on television, in what now must be almost every country but Scotland – where we have to watch it on Amazon (I think).  But ever since I started reading Diana Gabaldon‘s series of books in oh, about 1996 or so – and recommending them to my friends (a bit scandalous they were! And we loved them!)  I have had the feeling deep down that “Sassenach” might be a pretty apt description for the woman who was at home anywhere but at home; and never at home in any social gathering.

So, knowing that, I decided to move to Scotland. 

Garnetbank School

Aye, what else does one do when she is single mom of a four-year old; works full-time plus; tries to manage nannies and a schedule that includes cross-country travel and move from a home she loved – but the neighbours wrote her citations for having pink flamingos in her front garden and eventually stole their pink flamingo bodies off the metal legs in the middle of the night so she sold her lovely home rather than do battle (in her spare time)?  Je suis Sassenach.  I don’t belong.

Most of the dictionaries describe a Sassenach as an English person; a derogatory slang term Scots use to describe their southern neighbours.  Non-Gaelic speaking; Saxon; us vs. them.  The Bottle Imp gives a pretty good description of the evolution of the term.  And of course, it is Jamie Fraser’s term of endearment for his wife, Claire Beauchamp.  He a Highlander; she’s an English lass.

Je suis Sassenach.  Since the original foray into Scotland in 2002, we have lived as well in London (twice), Paris (j’adore), Luxembourg (I could write a book about that one), back to London, and for me – back to Scotland.  I feel complete comfort riding in a bus where the language I speak is not my own, including English.

Several years ago, I had an astrologer who is a friend of a friend do a chart at a particularly turbulent time in our lives. Within the first couple pages the word “Mlecchas” cropped up.  Outcast.  In Vedic terms it is a symbolic caste of those having the sense to not belong anywhere in particular, and feeling ever to be the outsider.  In ancient times it meant much the same as Sassenach to the native people of India – Outlanders.  Barbarians.  If you Google it, you come up with all sorts of links that say much the same thing.

That sealed it for me – I realised who I was.   If I had known earlier in life; I would have been a humanitarian photographer; the perfect career for the Mleccha/Sassenach it turns out that I am.  It explains the fascination with the camera – to capture and interpret and witness and channel.  But to never really be a part of – for the long term, anyway.  There will still be time for that when my daughter has finished her schooling.  Right now I am content to know who, and what I am.  And why I never felt like I thought others enjoyed feeling.

Susan Cain writes so much about this in her wonderful book “Quiet –  The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking.  You guessed it – I’m an introvert on the Myers-Briggs grid; INFP to be exact.  Don’t get me wrong.  I am not unfriendly, or cold or uncaring.  I’m not even really shy.  But, I am quiet.  I am content with my own company as well as other; I don’t seek constant social stimulation.  I hold the handful of close friendships I have as treasures beyond anything material.  And I love my child with a passion that moves me to think that the only place I really feel at home is with her, wherever we are.  But it has taken a very long time to understand why it is I have been able to take the chances I have taken to find “home”.  I should have applied for the Foreign Service 20 years ago. I felt like a Sassenach even in my own country.

As a subset of my occasional blog, I have decided it might be time to drill deeper into this.

Bonjour – Je m’appelle Mardelle.  Je suis Sassenach – et vous? 

I love France as well.  France and Scotland have ties that go way, way back.  I learned about that in Outlander.  Thank you Diana Gabaldon and Susan Cain.   You started me on a journey to find myself.

Are there any other Sassenachs out there?  I’d love to hear.  



    • Thank you for your comment. It hasn’t always been easy, but the fabric of our lives has been very enriched with our paths up and down. Please stay tuned; I am trying to invite my muse to help me share the stories of an American in Glasgow (Paris, Luxembourg, Tours, London…).

  1. I’m definitely a Sassenach! Born and brought up in England – but in any case I think you only have to be a lowlander, rather than a highlander, so living in Glasgow also qualifies me. As for your more metaphorical sense, I can identify with that too.

  2. Yes, even a lowlander Scot would gain the title! And I consider that being from San Francisco…..definitely south.
    Genealogy-wise; my father’s side hails from the south of England an there were also some “Spitalfield” Relfs. There are three “tribes”; but the one who sailed from England is lost somewhere about the Civil War and the only one with DNA we could trace refuses to do it. Can’t blame him. So we do meet up with a couple of them from time to time – Sassenachs us all! But I am definitely an “Outlander”.

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